Posts Tagged ‘Stanley Hauerwas’

Sermon 04-15-18: “The B.C. and A.D. of Our Lives”

April 25, 2018

In today’s highly autobiographical scripture, Paul describes his life before Christ and after Christ. As I say in today’s sermon, if we’re Christians, our lives should be characterized by a B.C. (before Christ) and and A.D. (after Christ) as well. Can other people see the difference?

Sermon Text: Galatians 1:11-24

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

The following was written after the fact from my sermon outline, so it will differ somewhat from the recorded sermon. Enjoy!

Believe it or not, I have never watched the show Celebrity Big Brother. Have any of you? But it made headlines recently when one of its contestants, a former White House staffer who was fired last year, had this to say about Vice President Mike Pence: She warned that we need to watch out for him. She said, “I’m Christian, I love Jesus, but he thinks Jesus tells him to say things.” 

This was being discussed on that talk show The View. Joy Behar, one of the co-hosts, upon hearing this, said to her fellow View co-hosts, “It’s one thing to talk to Jesus. It’s another thing when Jesus talks to you!” She went on to say that hearing voices is “mental illness.”

Then the vice president accused her of “attacking Christianity,” and the whole thing got blown out of proportion—as all things political tend to do these days.

Of course, when the vice president said that he hears Jesus speak to him, he meant it the way we mean it when we talk about “hearing” the Lord tell us something: he meant that he sensed that Jesus was guiding or directing or leading him to do something. Not that he heard Jesus speak to him in an audible voice. It’s unlikely that any of us Christians would claim to have heard Jesus speak in an audible voice, even if we’re confident that Jesus has “spoken” to us.

Besides, Jesus doesn’t need to speak to us in an audible voice. Because we have God’s Word… and we believe that Jesus speaks to us in the pages of this book! This is by far the main way that Jesus speaks to us!

But the apostle Paul wants us to know in today’s scripture, by contrast, that when he heard Jesus speak to him, he meant he really heard Jesus speak to him, not merely in an audible voice, but in person—because Jesus appeared to him in his resurrected body on that Damascus road, gave him the gospel he preached, and commissioned him to be the apostle to the Gentiles. Read the rest of this entry »

Men are not defective women

August 31, 2015

Over five years ago, between Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2009, my family and I were victims of a stalker. I’ll spare you the details except to say that it culminated late one night when I heard someone on our front porch. (Fortunately, my family was out of town at a family Christmas party in Florida.) I caught a glimpse of the man through our bay window and called 9-1-1. After the man disappeared down the driveway, I saw that he had left several sexually explicit notes and drawings on our garage door and front porch. He had also scattered several unopened condoms on our porch.

After about 10 minutes, sheriff’s deputies arrived. After gathering evidence and taking my statement—they already a “file” on this man, since we had called them after an earlier incident—they tried unsuccessfully to track him with a K-9 unit.

When they left, I was scared—I’ll be honest. But the next morning, despite my fear, I was on a mission: I canvassed the neighborhood. I knocked on doors of neighbors, most of whom I’d never met, informing them about what happened, asking if they saw anything suspicious and would they keep on the lookout for this man?

At one house, a man answered the door who looked like the man I’d glimpsed through the window. I did a double-take. Naturally, he denied knowing anything. But when I left, I called the sheriff’s office. I later identified him in a photo lineup. After a couple of days, they interviewed him, he confessed, and he was arrested. Within a couple of months, the case was adjudicated. He got probation with mandatory therapy. We got a permanent protective order against him.

As I learned from talking to neighbors, my experience with the man was only the latest and most extreme episode in a 20-year history of threatening, and escalating, acts against his neighbors.

Through this experience, I learned something about myself: This is what being a man feels like—this righteous anger, this desire to protect my family, this small measure of courage I summoned. And it felt good. 

Any sympathy I felt at that point toward Stanley Hauerwas’s brand of Christian pacifism evaporated: I would resort to violence—without apology—if it meant protecting people I love. I don’t believe, contrary to years of indoctrination at liberal mainline seminary, that the example or teachings of Jesus preclude justifiable violence. I believe they require it—for individuals, municipalities, and nations.

I thought of this experience a couple of weeks ago, when those three Americans intervened, unarmed, to protect a train-load of passengers bound for Paris from a Moroccan terrorist. It was an inspiring act of heroism that I hope I would emulate if I were in similar circumstances. Regardless, if Hauerwas is right—and there are many Methodist clergy who believe that he is—these three men were wrong to use force to stop this man on the principle that any resort to violence contradicts Jesus’ teaching to “turn the other cheek.” They should instead have let the man shoot up the train and accept their own deaths as a witness to the non-coercive love of God.

I know… this seems incomprehensible to me, too.

Regardless, I appreciate this blog post from Owen Strachan about the men’s courage and its application to contemporary manhood.

Teach a boy that he is an idiot, that he can only ever ascend to Fantasy Football champion, that he cannot ever measure up to his sisters, that he is at base an animal, and watch in wonder as he fulfills all your worst predictions.

But teach him that he has immense dignity and worth, that he was made — whatever his chest size, whatever his height — to spend himself for the good of others, and you will form the kind of young men who do not cower when a terrorist stands up, sweating and fevered, to fulfill Allah’s will by mowing down innocents. This kind of young man wakes up from his nap, sees bloodshed on the horizon, and moves with a swiftness he has trained for to sacrifice himself for others. He may die, he knows. But he will die with honor.

With some irony, I post this recent song by singer-songwriter Neko Case. No, she’s not a man, regardless how she was raised. But the song rightly recognizes that there is a difference between women and men. It resonates with me.

“Unbelievable?” podcast unbelievably good

April 1, 2015


I’m sure way behind the times on this, but I want to plug a podcast/radio show from the U.K. I only just discovered last week: “Unbelievable?” with host Justin Brierly, from Premiere Christian Radio. The show’s producers are interested in the same questions I am, and they approach them, as I do, from an evangelical perspective.

If I’ve blogged about an issue pertaining to Christian faith, their show has gathered leading Christian thinkers (of a variety of confessional and ideological perspectives) and non-Christian thinkers on all sides of the issue and debated it. For example, just a few weeks ago, I debated some of my readers over questions related to Christian pacifism. Here is an insightful recent discussion between Christian pacifist Stanley Hauerwas and just-war proponent Nigel Biggar.

If you think you’d be interested, you will be. Check it out! You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and other podcast services.

I will be blogging about some episodes in the upcoming weeks, including the Hauerwas-Biggar debate.

Last thoughts (this week) on Christian pacifism

February 25, 2015

A few weeks ago I heard a new argument for changing our United Methodist Church’s stance on human sexuality. It wasn’t a good argument, mind you, but it was one I hadn’t heard before. I reflected on it in this blog post. A United Methodist pastor in Birmingham named Wade Griffith applied Jesus’ words in John 16:12-13 to our sexuality debate: Jesus said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

One of the “many things” that Jesus still had to say to us, the church, was that homosexual practice—at least in the context of committed, monogamous, lifelong relationships—was blessed by God. God’s attitude toward homosexual practice wasn’t different back then; it’s only that the idea was so radical that no one back then could have handled it. So, by Griffith’s logic, first Jesus and later the Holy Spirit waited until the sexual revolution of the late-twentieth century had sufficiently prepared the world—at least the wealthy Western industrialized part—for this previously radical idea.

The Holy Spirit, said Griffith, waited until the right time…

As I wrote in the blog post:

But the Spirit didn’t wait, did he? Because within 20 years of Jesus’ words in John 16, this same Spirit—the very Spirit of Christ, who makes Christ present to us, who reminds us of Christ’s teaching and how to apply it to our lives—inspired Paul to tell us through scripture that homosexual behavior contradicts God’s intentions for humanity.

Did the Spirit not know back then, when Paul was writing the so-called “clobber verses,” how confusing Paul’s words would later prove to be for Christians? Couldn’t the Spirit at least have had Paul remain silent on the subject? Or did the Holy Spirit really have so little to do with producing the canon of scripture?

My point is this: Griffith’s argument falls victim to the idea that the revelation of God in Christ is different, even at times opposed, to the revelation of God in holy scripture.

How can an evangelical committed to the authority of scripture endorse this line of reasoning?

Yet, in my own way, I was unconsciously accepting its premise in my previous blog post (and comment section) regarding Stanley Hauerwas’s view (by way of Kevin Hargaden) of “Christological non-violence.”

In distinguishing Hauerwas’s pacifism from secular pacifism, Kevin writes, “Christological non-violence is different from generic pacifism because it holds that Jesus, not war (or its absence), is the centre of ethical reality.”

In other words, our basis for rejecting war in all cases—not to mention (although Kevin never does) any violent police action, and, indeed, any violent action to defend our families or ourselves—is Christ’s own teaching and example, not our commitment to non-violence, per se.

As an evangelical, I could almost accept that principle if I believed that Jesus taught that Christians can never resort to violence as part of a military, a police force, or in an effort to defend themselves or their families.

I say “almost” because I’d have to interpret Jesus’ words and actions against other passages in scripture, including Jesus’ unqualified praise of the Roman centurion as a paragon of Christian faith, or Peter’s uncritical acceptance of centurion Cornelius in Acts 10, or Paul’s words about the state’s “sword” being a “minister of God” in Romans 13. I would then avail myself of Christian tradition: how did the saints of the past interpret these verses, and were they, as a result, pacifists?

By the way, when it comes to tradition, I always assume, as a rule of thumb, that I’m not morally superior to the Christian saints on whose shoulders I stand. Even if I were a Christian pacifist, it wouldn’t be because I’m smarter or more virtuous than, say, Augustine, who most assuredly wasn’t a pacifist. If the case for Christian pacifism were as easy and obvious as some Christians today seem to make it, then what does that say about Augustine?

I know that there are arguments from scripture and tradition to be made for pacifism. I don’t find them convincing, but they can be made. But I wonder if Hauerwas’s “Christological non-violence” isn’t an ethical principle that he believes is embedded in the life, suffering, and death of Christ, which supersedes any argument from scripture, even where it contradicts the direct words of scripture.

If so, you can count me out. Christological non-violence must be an argument, first, from scripture, all of whose words are a gift from the very Spirit of Christ to us. It’s incomprehensible to me that Christ would teach something (through his words and actions) that the Spirit would contradict when the Spirit inspired these biblical writers to write these words. This is yet another application of that badly distorted “Jesus lens” I’ve written about before.

While we’re on the subject, Dr. Glenn Peoples, a theologian from New Zealand, applauds his government’s decision to send members of the New Zealand Defence Force to Iraq to train Iraqi troops in their fight against ISIS. His thoughts on the subject reflect mine. Follow the links below on Christian pacifism and “Turn the other cheek.” Among other things, he writes (emphasis mine):

“But Christians should be pacifists!”

No they shouldn’t. I know that some say that Christianity was universally a pacifist movement (a movement that taught that there is never any justification for the use of force against others) until bad people like Augustine came along and corrupted the church with the doctrine of the just war. The kindest thing to say about this is that it is an oversimplification, but the ordinary way of describing this is as a lie. There existed pacifists among the Church Fathers, but as I have explained before, the evidence does not support the claim that they were all pacifists up to the time of Augustine. “Turn the other cheek,” some say. “Learn what that means,” I say in reply.) For those interested, I discussed this issue, albeit briefly, on a panel for Elephant TV, and that discussion is available on Youtube (I do not know for how long it will be available).

We must confront IS, not because we hate them, but because we love those who are in the firing line.

Certainly, Christian reflection on vengeance, violence and hatred (and love!) should feed into our thinking about what the right response to IS looks like. But the result of such thinking does not push us to pacifism. Engaging with IS need not be about hatred at all, but about love. It is one thing for people to say “love your enemy,” as though acting against IS must be viewed as contrary to love. But what does it mean to love those who are left at the mercy of IS if the world does not intervene? What kind of false piety is it that would say to them, “although we could intervene to protect you, our love for those who are about to cut off your heads prevents us from doing so. PTL.” If I were more of a mocking person (I am sometimes, but this is too serious to engage in such triviality), there would be an exposed target in the attitude that calls on men, women and children to lie down and die so that we can keep our halo untarnished. We must confront IS, not because we hate them, but because we love those who are in the firing line.

Pacifism in the hard cases

February 24, 2015
From the cover of his memoir "Hannah's Child"

From the cover of Hauerwas’s memoir “Hannah’s Child”

I received an emphatic response, pro and con, to my last blog post about war and the justified use of violence. Of all the negative comments, the following, from my Irish Presbyterian friend Kevin, was best:

I feel this post badly mis-represents Hauerwas. It certainly does not engage with Christological non-violence in terms that proponents could recognise. For one thing, the claim that pacifism is secretly pragmatic is somewhat undercut by reference to one of Hauerwas’ most famous aphorisms:

“Christians are not nonviolent because we believe our nonviolence is a strategy to rid the world of war, but rather because faithful followers of Christ in a world of war cannot imagine being anything else than nonviolent.”

I used to ask Christians who present the argument as you have the following question:

If Just War Theory is the appropriate Biblical pattern for Christian living, then what war that has been fought satisfied the criteria?

But in the midst of the never-ending War on Terror, I realise the question that needs to be asked is:

What war fails to satisfy Just War criteria?

The former President of Yemen spent last night hiding in the back of a food truck after a drone attack he got caught up in killed three people. The conversation that American Christians has about who they are allowed to kill in the name of God appears absurd to your Christians brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world.

Here’s my preliminary response. First, if my post fails to “engage with Christological non-violence in terms that proponents could recognise,” he’s going to have to tell me what “Christological non-violence” means, and tell me what I’m missing. The word “Christology,” by the way, is a showy, overused seminary word that pertains to the ways in which Jesus is both God and man at the same time.

In this context, I’m guessing he means that because Jesus was non-violent, and, when given the opportunity in his passion to respond with violence, chose not to, we should therefore, in all cases, eschew violence. Indeed, as I said in my original post, Hauerwas’s pacifism is premised upon the idea (unless I’m badly mistaken) that God is perfect non-coercive love. Although he’s often called a “high-church Anabaptist,” Hauerwas isn’t like an old-fashioned Anabaptist whose pacifism says, “We believe strongly that vengeance is God’s to repay, and we look forward to it.” From Hauerwas’s perspective, there is no vengeance, no violence, on God’s part.

How he reconciles this with scripture I have no idea.

I never said that Hauerwas was pragmatic about his pacifism, only that the blogger I quoted was: Remember, he’s the one who said that there is a peaceful solution, if only we’ll have the time and patience to find it.

As for Hauerwas’s comment that “faithful followers of Christ in a world of war cannot imagine being anything else than nonviolent,” I can only wonder what world he’s living in.

And this gets to the heart of my objection to Kevin’s complaint. As I said in my comment back to him,

Kevin points to murderous drones killing civilians or whatever. Fine. But if you’re going to be principled about it, defend the principle in the hard cases, too. Here’s why a police sniper isn’t allowed to stop the man who’s spree-killing children at an elementary school. Here’s why soldiers can’t forcibly liberate Auschwitz. Good Lord, here’s why I can’t use force to stop the man who’s raping my wife or molesting my child. Reductio ad absurdum? Reductio ad Hitlerum? Sorry. It’s his principle, not mine. Do we make exceptions?

According to Hauerwas’s principle, any act of violence is proscribed—not just this or that heinous act of indiscriminate killing in warfare—because, after all, how can any of us faithful Christians imagine forcibly stopping someone who is harming our own children—or other people’s children? We must oppose not only our military in all circumstances, but also police protection, the violent defense of our families, and self-defense (obviously). As Hauerwas has said before, “What’s the worst that’s going to happen? We get killed? We’re Christians! Who cares?”

It’s easy for him to say! Even if we share his pacifist convictions, let’s confess that we in the industrialized West are unlikely to find our convictions put to the test. Why? In part because we’re freeloading (except for our taxes) off the umbrella of protection afforded by our national and local defense systems. Our stable systems of government are ultimately enforced through violence, or at least its threat.

As I also indicated in my comments, if this article fairly represents his comments in a recent debate, “maybe Hauerwas disagrees with himself, too.”

Police force that’s short of killing is now “an open question.” Really? It wasn’t an open question back when I was reading him in seminary. Is he really starting to budge on non-lethal violence? On what principle? And how does that principle, whatever it is, not apply to protecting lives outside of one’s country—if it were possible?

Does the cross mean a nation shouldn’t go to war?

February 20, 2015

I am not a pacifist. Even in the depths of my Candler-inspired apostasy from orthodox Christianity many years ago, I never completely made the leap that thinkers like Stanley Hauerwas wanted me to make: to extend Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount against personal vengeance (“turn the other cheek”) to a complete rejection of violence in the cause of justice in the world.

Even when I was reading Hauerwas in Christian ethics class (taught by a professor who himself wasn’t a pacifist, but a proponent of “just war” theory), I thought Hauerwas’s was a cheap kind of pacifism. After all, Durham, North Carolina, isn’t exactly Rwanda!

No… Even then I thought that Hauerwas’s pacifism freeloads off a police force and a military that he doesn’t support except, presumably, through his taxes—which, by the way, are ultimately paid at gunpoint. Not that you’ll hear me complain. I’m merely pointing out that the rule of law and our systems of government and justice—far from perfect though they are—are made possible in part by the use of coercive, sometimes lethal, force. From Hauerwas’s perspective, this kind of force is never Christianly permissible because God, he says, is perfect non-coercive love.

Good thing so many heathens in our country disagree with him!

Even many years ago, I saw this inconsistency. Today, I have the Bible.

Which is why I can’t go along with Christian blogger Zack Hunt when he argues that the cross of Christ means that we as a nation shouldn’t use force to stop ISIS terrorists from continuing to do what they did last weekend—beheading 21 Egyptian Christians because they were Christians—and have done with too little resistance across Iraq and Syria: murder indigenous Christian and other minority religious populations.

Hunt writes:

No matter how righteous our cause may be, as Christians the cross remains in front of us a stumbling block on the path to vengeance. Which, I think, is why so many of us in the Church are so willing to go out of our way to justify our dismissal of the cross as a way of life. Killing our enemies is just easier. It’s quicker and more satisfying than finding a non-violent solution. And it doesn’t require the struggle that comes along with loving and forgiving people that want us dead.

Why is military intervention necessarily a “path to vengeance” rather than a path to justice and, yes, love? Is it not loving to intervene, even with violence, to prevent violent men from murdering unarmed civilians when we have the power to do so? If we would support a similar police action within the borders of our state or municipality, by what logic would we oppose it outside of our borders? Because we don’t love non-Americans as much? That hardly seems Christian, either.

If you want to argue that intervening militarily is wrong because it would only lead to more violence and bloodshed, that’s fine… But it’s also a pragmatic and utilitarian consideration. No one ought to support Christian pacifism because it works! We’re talking principles here: we don’t resort to violence because, Christian pacifists say, the cross of Christ proves it’s wrong, not because it doesn’t work.

That’s what Hauerwas would say, and I’m sure Hunt would agree. Except, surely he’s being inconsistent when he says this: “Killing our enemies is just easier. It’s quicker and more satisfying than finding a non-violent solution.”

So there is a non-violent solution, he says, it’s just a matter of working harder to find one? We resort to violence out of laziness—because it’s “easier”? In other words, he says we should be pacifists because pacifism works. “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” In meantime, how many people will die?

Besides, who is he to say that “killing our enemies” is easier? Our troops put their lives on the line—indeed, sacrifice their lives—in order to save the lives of the weak and innocent. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Hunt speaks of vengeance, but why would that necessarily be our motivation to intervene militarily? I would be happy for our troops to swoop in and arrest all the terrorists without firing a single shot so long as it stopped their campaign of murder. But I’m pretty sure that ISIS wouldn’t “come out with their hands up.”

Hunt writes: “Paul, of course, famously echoed Jesus’ call to the cruciform life, declaring in Philippians 2 that as his followers, our lives should be like that of Christ who emptied himself, took on the form of a slave, humbled himself, and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”

This same Paul wrote, in Romans 13, that God’s duly appointed ruler “does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

The point is, both Jesus and Paul speak against personal vengeance, not against a nation’s justifiable use of violent force. Indeed, as Paul says, such violence accomplishes God’s will.

As for God’s use of violence, see, for instance, this post. God’s love often is coercive, as it will be, especially, in final judgment.

The “terrible paralysis” from believing “it’s all up to us”

January 23, 2015

Lord_teach_usAs you may know, I’m currently preaching a sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer. I preached a similar series five years ago—a lot of water under the bridge since then—and used a book on the Lord’s Prayer called Lord, Teach Us, by Will Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas, as one resource. As I’ve revisited this book—on the other side of my “evangelical reawakening”—I find that I’m far less sympathetic than I once was with both the book’s tone and its substance.

For example, I’m now a convinced “just warrior” who believes that violence can be good and necessary under some circumstances. I oppose Christian pacifism. I believe strongly in the police’s role in maintaining law and order, even through violence (as perhaps even Hauerwas now does—the big softie!). I deeply love my country, warts and all—and I don’t believe I’m kowtowing to “empire,” or the world’s “domination systems,” or whatever, by doing so. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, take a few classes at a mainline Protestant seminary.)

Don’t get me wrong: Like the good Candler graduate that I am, I believe that the gospel should liberate people in the here and now, not just in the sweet by and by, and that the Church should take the lead to make the world a more just place, as it has for two millennia. But even if the most oppressive nations on earth were suddenly as egalitarian as, say, Sweden, these nations would still need Jesus to save them from their sins. The Swedes still need Jesus!

Nevertheless, while I was tempted to throw the book out the window after re-reading their chapter on “Your kingdom come,” their chapter on the next clause, “Your will be done, on earth as in heaven,” is strong. I especially like the part in which they relate this petition to the story of Joseph and his brothers at the end of Genesis. As part of a discussion about the “amazing resilience of God’s purposes,” which “cannot be stumped by our plans,” they write:

We modern American people are so accustomed to thinking life as a choice or chance. Life is what I do and decide or else life is a roulette wheel of sheer luck. Is that why we often feel so helpless and hopeless? If life is all up to us, then we know enough about ourselves and our brothers and sisters to know we are doomed. A terrible paralysis comes from thinking that it’s all up to us. If the fate of the world, the outcome of the future is solely of my doing, or even yours, then—a good freshman course in the history of Western civilization should convince us that we are without hope. No wonder we feel frail and fearful before the bomb, AIDS, the ecological crisis, thinning ozone, or even the department of motor vehicles—it’s all choice or chance.

William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas, Lord, Teach Us: The Lord’s Prayer and the Christian Life (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 63.

“Two strangers learn to fall in love again”

September 16, 2013

I asked Oscar Smith, worship leader for Hampton UMC’s Transformation service, if he would play Journey’s “Faithfully” to accompany my sermon on love and marriage yesterday. As usual, I don’t get these flashes of inspiration until late, and I figured  that a), he thought I was joking, and b), it was too late to learn the song anyway. As he indicates at the end of this performance, he proved me wrong!

I love the song first because it makes me feel incredibly nostalgic: it puts me right back on the gym floor of my seventh-grade dance. It reminds me of slow-dancing with girls for the first time, which was magical.

Even more, I realize as an adult that it’s a very smart love song. Jonathan Cain, the song’s author, wrote it about being on the road, away from wife and family, and trying to make his marriage work. You don’t have to be a rock star to resonate with these lines:

And being apart ain’t easy on this love affair
Two strangers learn to fall in love again
I get the joy of rediscovering you
Oh, girl, you stand by me
I’m forever yours

Even if married couples aren’t separated from one another by geography, they become separated, at times, by life experience, emotional distance, and neglect. If it’s true, as Hauerwas said, that being married is “learning to love the stranger to whom you find yourself married,” then all married couples will become strangers who must learn to fall in love again. If we don’t give up too easily, we can find joy in rediscovering one another.

When I realized Oscar was playing this song, I grabbed my iPhone. Sorry I missed the beginning.

Loving the “stranger to whom you find yourself married”

July 17, 2013

On the heels of yesterday’s post about marriage, I read this post on Christianity Today‘s “Her.meneutics” blog from guest blogger Ashley Moore entitled “A Christian Case Against Early Marriage.” A few years ago, the same magazine published an article advocating early marriage, and as Moore points out, secular publications have also gotten in on the act.

In her popular article in The Atlantic, Karen Swallow Prior encourages young adults to view marriage, not as the capstone, but as the cornerstone of our lives—an event that will allow us to form with our spouses. Her idea, put simply: Get married and grow up together as you grow old together. A piece in Slate and one in Newsweek similarly argued that we shouldn’t wait until after we’ve “figured it all out” or “lived” before we tie the knot.

From my perspective, who could disagree with this, since none of us ever “has it all figured out”—least of all marriage? No couple, regardless of age or maturity, knows what they’re doing when they get married.

Moore doesn’t see it that way. She continues:

This line of thinking remains risky, presenting marriage as such a positive move for 20somethings when so many of them aren’t ready. Surrounded by proponents of young love and young marriage, I felt a pressure beyond my years to make a commitment, and I am so glad I didn’t give in to those expectations, having grown up and grown closer to God in the years since.

Moore is right when she says that we don’t need marriage to fulfill us. For that, we need Jesus. But being “ready” for marriage can hardly be a prerequisite for marriage, since none of us is!

I’m exaggerating. Obviously, couples can be more or less suited for one another, more or less mature, more or less realistic. But unless you go into marriage with a great deal of humility, it will humble you like nothing else.

She continues:

Sure, plenty of Christian couples marry young and go on to have strong, happy marriages. We can celebrate those well-matched young ones, whether they were especially mature or simply lucky to have found one another. But that doesn’t mean that young marriage should become the biblical model for the church, particularly when we can’t guarantee all will share their fate.

From Moore’s perspective, couples are either mature or lucky enough to find a partner with whom they are “well-matched.” I’m not saying that compatibility is irrelevant, but it’s not nearly as important as the online dating services—whose very names (, eHarmony) exalt it—suggest. Sure, you and your partner may correlate nicely on 538 different character traits (or whatever) and still find the “Hauerwas Rule” (courtesy of Duke Christian ethicist Stanley Hauerwas) very much in play: “You always marry the wrong person.”

If that sounds too glib or cynical, here’s the “rule” in context:

Destructive marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become “whole” and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person.

We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary problem is… learning to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.[†]

The point of the Hauerwas Rule is that there is no “right” person with whom marriage won’t, at times, be incredibly difficult. What we need far more than compatibility is self-giving Christian love.

Stanley Hauerwas in Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage (New York: Dutton, 2011), 38. The footnote in Keller’s book mistakenly refers to this article, which itself merely refers to the original Hauerwas piece.

Tying ourselves to the mast

April 30, 2013
This book is simply one of the best I've ever read.

This book is simply one of the best I’ve ever read.

In my sermon last Sunday, I talked briefly about the surprising good news of marriage’s “no escape clause.” It’s good news, I said, that we’re “stuck” to the person to whom we’re married, at least in the short run. Even with no-fault divorces, divorce remains (thank God) costly and difficult.

How can we make sure we’re “stuck” for a lifetime? Which is another way of asking, “How can we keep our Christian marriage vows? How can we remain true to the covenant into which we enter on our wedding day?”

Well, we certainly don’t do it simply by finding the person with whom we are “compatible”—I don’t care what or eHarmony promise. (Notice how both those companies’ names imply compatibility.) Compatibility doesn’t amount to much, because, at best, it’s only a snapshot. Marriage partners change. Compatibility today doesn’t guarantee compatibility in the future. As Christian ethicist Lewis Smedes pointed out, “My wife has lived with at least five different men since we were wed—and each of the five has been me.”[1]

Or as contemporary Christian ethicist Stanley Hauerwas (who coined what’s become known as the “Hauerwas Rule”: “You always marry the wrong person”), wrote: “We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it  a while and he or she will change… The primary problem is… learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.”[2]

How do we do it? Timothy Keller’s book The Meaning of Marriage is filled with wisdom and practical guidance. In my sermon, I intended to share some positive statistics about marriage, which Keller cites in his book. One, based on longitudinal peer-reviewed research, says that fully two-thirds of unhappily married couples will get happy again within five years if they wait that long. I love this analogy:

When Ulysses was traveling to the island of the Sirens, he knew that he would go mad when he heard the voices of the women on the rocks. He also learned that the insanity would be temporary, lasting until he could get out of earshot. He didn’t want to do something while temporarily insane that would have permanent bad consequences. So he put wax in the ears of his sailors, tied himself to the mast, and told his men to keep him on course no matter what he yelled…

What can keep marriages together during the rough patches? The vows. A public oath, made to the world, keeps you “tied to the mast” until your mind clears and you begin to understand things better.[3]

Keller explores the power of the promises we make. He quotes Smedes again:

The connecting link with my old self has always been the memory of the name I took on back there: “I am he who will be there with you.” When we slough off that name, lose that identity, we can hardly find ourselves again.[4]

1. Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage (New York: Dutton, 2011), 92.

2. Ibid., 38.

3. Ibid., 87.

4. Ibid., 38.